Calling the Finnish band Laika & the Cosmonauts--a quartet of studio musicians playing all-instrumental surf music in a country where the ice rarely melts--a genuine oddity is understating the case. Yet over the course of four albums, the two most recent of which are available domestically on Upstart Records, this exuberant combo, along with the rejuvenated Dick Dale, has given a stagnant genre a serious shot in the arm. Perhaps their distance from America's hunger for ironic nostalgia allowed them to forge a style based on a love of the music: they may operate with a goofy sense of humor, but there's no sarcasm in this stuff. It also helps that they don't limit themselves to surf material, although they play everything in that twangy fashion. Equally fond of TV detective show themes and film music, they've also recorded songs by Finnish folk ensemble Varttina. Last year's Instruments of Terror, for example, included vibrant takes on "Mission: Impossible" and Henry Mancini's "Experiment in Terror" as well as a novel fusion of the themes from Hitchcock's Psycho and Vertigo, which they titled "Psyko." Guitarists Mikko Lankinen and Matti Pitsinki (who doubles on keyboards) sculpt an unusually broad range of sounds and attacks, playing the theme from The Endless Summer with space and delicacy and blasting through the acid-drenched "Skater Dater" with crunch and aggression. The bulk of their oeuvre is original material that stands right up to their varied assortment of covers, and while it's not necessarily great art it's as fun as anything I've heard in the last year or two. Saturday, 10 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 525-6620.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo.